Oregon's Marcus Mariota was one of a few frontrunners to win the Heisman from the first snap of the regular season all the way through Friday's Pac 12 Championship thrashing of Arizona. On December 15, he will receive the award.
How do I know this? I know because he's got the stats (4,468 total yards, 53 total touchdowns, 2 interceptions), the team success (12-1 record, playoff berth), and the Heisman moments (5 total TDs in the Pac 12 Title game), but beyond that, he also has something else the Melvin Gordon and Amari Cooper, his biggest rivals, don't have: the name. And I'm not talking about Mariota either — I'm talking about Marcus.
Quick, name the first five Heisman winners that come to mind. I'll wait. When someone said this to me, I threw out, "Robert, Tim, Mark, Sam, Johnny." Notice anything about those names? They're all common. Very Common.
Marcus is a common name. Melvin and Amari are not. That's a pretty small sample size, hardly enough to make a statement about correlation. Besides, last year's winner was Jameis Winston. Not a common name at all. But I took a look at the last twenty guys who struck the pose, and did some digging. Here are their names.
|2011||Robert Griffin III|
Besides Rashaan and Jameis, that is a list of very common names. Of course you'd expect some, or even most of them to have common names — they are common names after all. But how does this list compare with the general population?
The Social Security Administration website maintains a list of the 100 most popular baby names in America over over the last 100 years (1914-2013). Great place to start! Allowing for spelling/abbreviation variations (Errick counts as Eric, Jonathan counts as John) 14 of the last 20 Heisman winners have names listed in the top 50 most popular American names over the last 100 years. The only exceptions were Jameis, Cameron, Troy, Reginald, Carson, and Rashaan.
So 70% of Heisman winners have one of the 50 most popular names in America in the last 100 years. How does that compare with the general population? Luckily, the SSA list allows us to figure that out too. It states that out of the 169,233,019 male births from 1914 to 2013, 75,452,832 of those male babies has one of the 50 most common names — 44.59%.
The percentage of Heisman winners with top 50 names is 35.31% higher than those the general population.
The SSA also lists the 1,000 most popular baby names each year, so I looked at where each Heisman winner's name ranked the year they were born. I found that 12 of the 20 had one of the 40 most popular names of their birth year.
Here's the full table with all the names and where they rank. Any disambiguations I used are listed alongside the rank.
|Heisman Year||Name||Birth Year||Rank in Birth Year||Rank in the last century|
|1993||Charlie Ward||1970||273 (Charles=21)||NA (Charles=9)|
|1995||Edward "Eddie" George Jr.||1973||38||22|
|1996||Daniel "Danny" Wuerffel||1974||11||12|
|1998||Errick "Ricky" Williams Jr.||1977||NA (Eric=17)||NA (Eric=33)|
|1999||Ronald "Ron" Dayne||1978||55||NA|
|2000||Christopher "Chris" Weinke||1972||2||11|
|2004||Matthew "Matt" Leinart||1983||3||13|
|2005||Reginald "Reggie" Bush Jr.||1985||192||NA|
|2007||Timothy "Tim" Tebow||1987||26||27|
|2008||Samuel "Sam" Bradford||1987||50||44|
|2009||Mark Ingram Jr.||1989||42||17|
|2010||Cameron "Cam" Newton||1989||53||NA|
|2011||Robert Griffin III||1990||13||3|
|2012||Jonathan "Johnny" Manziel||1992||21 (John=14)||36 (John=2)|
Only two Heisman winners' names were ranked outside the Top 1,000 in their birth year: Jameis Winston and Rashaan Salaam. I wanted so badly to remove the "i" from Jameis and count it as a disambiguation of James, the number one most popular name in America in the last 100 years, but I didn't. Just couldn't justify it.
So 13 of 20 Heisman winners have names ranked in the top 100 most popular names of their birth year, even if you don't count Charlie as Charles and Errick as Eric. If you do, that makes 15 of 20. That leaves us with five uncommon names.
Five of the last 20 Heisman winners have names not ranked in the the top 100 most popular American male names of the last century or the top 100 most popular names of their birth year. Those five names are Rashaan, Carson, Reginald, Troy, and Jameis.
I wanted to know more though. Maybe these five beat out guys with names even less common than their own. So I went back and looked at the voting in the year that each won.
2013, 2006, 2005, 1994
Jameis Winston (2013) and Troy Smith (2006) won by a landslide. No use even comparing. There wasn't a close, or even consensus, second place in either race. Reggie Bush got nearly ten times as many first place votes as Vince Young, who placed second. Really not a competition in that one either.
Just an FYI, Vince was the #96 most popular name in his birth year, ahead of Reginald at #192, but Reggie outplayed Vince by such a wide margin, there was no debate.
In 1994, four players received over 100 first place votes, but Rashaan Salaam got over three times more first place votes than any of them. By the way, the guy who finished second? Ki-Jana Carter.
|Player||Birth Year||Rank in Birth Year||Rank in the last century||1st||2nd||3rd||Tot|
|5||Kenneth "Ken" Dorsey||1981||41||20||122||89||99||643|
The 2002 race is the biggest outlier to our Popular Name = Heisman Winner rule. The top five players all got at least 100 first-place votes, so we can say there was legit debate about who should win the award. This was the only time in the last twenty years that a debatable Heisman race was won by a guy with a name less common than his competitors. One time! In twenty years! So let's take a look at the three front-runners for this year's Heisman.
|Birth Year||Birth Year Rank||Rank in the last century|
None of the three names are ranked in the top 100 most popular names of the past 100 years, but Mariota had the most popular name of his birth year by a wide margin. The average rank of each Heisman winners' name among babies born in their birth year is 180, and that's if we include Rashaan Salaam and Jameis Winston with a rank of 1,000. If we remove those two outliers, the average rank drops to 80th. Right about where Marcus Mariota sits.
Mariota outplayed everyone this year, so it probably won't be a debate anyway, but even if he had laid an egg against Arizona, the Heisman probably still would have gone his way. That's what's in a name.